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Young Dodgers couldn't sustain effort

With the exception of Loney, they failed to deliver during the series with Philadelphia, but Colletti says the group will benefit from the postseason experience.

October 19, 2008|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Andre Ethier said he didn't know what to think. Asked how he felt, he said he felt nothing.

Only a day removed from a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series that marked the end of the Dodgers' season, Ethier said he needed more time to make sense of everything that happened over the last eight months.

"These are pointless questions to be asking right now," Ethier said.

Ethier batted only .188 in the postseason, his performance a reflection of how the nucleus of young players on the Manny Ramirez-driven Dodgers reacted to the October spotlight.

Russell Martin, a two-time All-Star at 25, batted .200, including .118 against the Phillies. Blake DeWitt was one for 13 in the NLCS.

Matt Kemp batted .250 in the playoffs, with more strikeouts (nine) than hits (seven).

The only young player who hit the way he did in the regular season was James Loney, who batted .300 with eight runs batted in in eight games.

Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley was spectacular in his division series victory over the Chicago Cubs but had an earned-run average of 18.00 in two losses to the Phillies. Closer Jonathan Broxton recorded a four-out save to eliminate the Cubs but gave up a two-run, eighth-inning home run to Matt Stairs in Game 4 of the NLCS from which the Dodgers never recovered. Clayton Kershaw, a 20-year-old left-hander, faced three batters in that game and got only one of them out.

"It doesn't matter," Kemp said. "We played hard. Things just didn't work out the way we wanted them to."

General Manager Ned Colletti said he thought that the group would benefit from this postseason experience.

"We played a postseason roster that had numerous players that were 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 20," Colletti said. "I think that's a huge plus. . . . I think they learn more about themselves and they learn more about the pressures of playing at this level.

"When you're successful in athletics, it's because you're able to slow the game down, whether it's individually or as a team. As you get to this point in the season, you have to do it even more."

But Manager Joe Torre said enough learning was done over the course of the season to make him comfortable about the team's future.

To him, the team's young players weren't the same players they were at the start of the season. The group that he met in spring training struck him as talented but hard-headed and overly concerned with individual statistics.

"You have to have more than talent," Torre said. "You have to have the ability to want something badly. I think when the guys had a little taste of it they realized how important it was and that was very satisfying."

DeWitt said he saw the change.

"This clubhouse, the way we came together as a team, how much fun we were having, how everyone was cheering for the next guy, it was unbelievable to watch," he said.

Still, decisions have to be made.

Colletti turned down numerous offers last winter for his prized young talents, including a proposed multiple-player deal with the Florida Marlins that would've sent Miguel Cabrera to the Dodgers, and he'll probably be faced with similar temptations this off-season.

Already, San Diego is looking to unload the salary of All-Star pitcher Jake Peavy, who told the Padres that the Dodgers were one of five teams for which he would consider waiving his no-trade clause.

There is also the issue of the workload shouldered by Martin. The Dodgers signed backup Gary Bennett last winter to reduce the number of the games Martin had to catch, but the exact opposite happened. He was behind the plate for more games than anyone in Dodgers history.

Martin, who caught a club-record 149 games in the regular season and eight in the playoffs, said he didn't realize how fatigued he was until the postseason, when the schedule became sprinkled with off days.

"You don't realize how you feel because you get used to being in that grind," Martin said.

As in 2007, Martin's numbers declined over the second half of the regular season. He hit .297 up to the All-Star break and .270 after.

But Torre said he isn't convinced that Martin should be moved to third base to reduce the toll on his body.

"I think you have to think hard about actually wanting to move him based on the fact that his value as a catcher, I think, would be higher than elsewhere," Torre said.

The position change that DeWitt had in the middle of this season from third base to second base probably won't be permanent. He said he scrapped the idea of playing winter ball to better learn how to play in the middle of the infield.

For third base coach Larry Bowa, the most important decision regarding the kids is the decision the club will make on the 36-year-old Ramirez.

"Real crucial," Bowa said. "He's helped the maturation of these young kids. I'm not saying that if he doesn't come back they won't mature. But if he doesn't come, you better get somebody to help the maturation along. You saw what he did to help these kids in the last two months."

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Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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